THE GREAT ESCAPE

This Times piece features a silly and all-too common turn of phrase (emphasis mine):

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who joined the Senate in 2005 and thus escaped the Iraq vote that has come to haunt Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry, used the platform of Senate hearings to lacerate the Bush Iraq policy and affirm his own opposition to the war.

Sure, one of the annoying things about being an elected legislator is that along with your deliciously nuanced views on the issues of the day, you need to vote for or against bills you didn’t write yourself to say just what you wanted them to. But is there anyone who knew who Barack Obama was in 2002 who didn’t know his position on invading Iraq?

The man spoke at an anti-war rally and called the proposed invasion “dumb” and an “attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us.” Do Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy really believe that he was hedging on whether or not the bill for the war should pass?

SORE POINT

Can we please put the phrase “Sore Loserman” to bed forever? There’s plenty to criticize about Joe Lieberman’s independent run, but surely we on the left should be creative enough to come up with a pithy pun of our own, right? No need to ressurrect a Republican phrase (it sounds like Gore-Lieberman! Get it?!?) designed to disparage the Democratic ticket’s (woefully insufficient) objections to the willful and systematic disenfranchisement of voters of color in 2000.

The invocation of the “Sore Loserman” line by progressives betrays the same maddening tunnel vision evinced by the “Chirac for President” signs I would run into at anti-war rallies back in the day.

NED AND JOHN

Sometime in the next few days, or at least well before September 12, some reporter is going to think to ask Ned Lamont to take a position on Hillary Clinton’s anti-war primary challenger, Jonathan Tasini, who’s so far mustered a small, small fraction of the media attention and political support Lamont has achieved. There are all kinds of reasons Tasini’s gotten far less traction. Clinton is both somewhat more progressive and far more politically savvy than Lieberman, and she doesn’t have quite the taste for controversy he does. Jon Tasini has less money than God.

When the question comes, I suspect Lamont will back Clinton. First, he’ll be trying to extract all the help he can get from the Democratic Party establishment – which did its best to clear the way for Bob Casey (successfully) and Joe Lieberman (unsuccessfully) – in squeezing Lieberman out of the race. Second, he’ll be trying to sell himself to folks who didn’t vote in the Democratic primary or voted for Lieberman as a moderate with an MBA.

What seems worth noting about Lamont’s rhetoric of the past few months is that the animus he summoned was almost always directed at Republicans individually or collectively, at incumbent Washington as a whole, or at Joe Lieberman individually. It was hardly ever directed at incumbent Democrats as a group. There was little to compare to Howard Dean’s “I want to know why so many Democrats are…” lament of a few years ago. It was an insurgent campaign, no doubt – and a truly impressive one whose results bode well for progressives everywhere with the audacity to expect better than the neoliberal/ neoconservative brand of centrism. But it was a carefully targeted one which took clever advantage of Lieberman’s stalwart outrageousness and singal willingness to give/ take bait like few others.

Lamont could of course surprise us announce that he was, say, going to endorse whoever won the New York Senate primary and not endorse Clinton before that. But I doubt it. And assuming he does endorse Hillary Clinton, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reaction he gets.

NOT ON OUR WATCH

Ever since the anti-war rallies in 2002, I’ve been somewhat anxious about the “Not in Our Name” slogan. I certainly agree that those who can do so safely have a moral responsibility to speak out against injustice whether or not the immediate impact of that speech is clear. But I think the “Not in Our Name” rhetoric has a way of shifting the focus away from using mass mobilization to avert catastrophe and towards insulating one’s self from future responsibility for catastrophe. I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear in chants of “Not in Our Name” a grudging resignation that war will be conducted in someone else’s. That the Iraq War took place, and continues, is a reality for which all of us with the privileges and burdens of American citizenship bear some measure of responsibility. So while I think it’s good and reasonable for Americans at home and abroad to share their opposition to the Bush administration, the eagerness with which some on the left have embraced “Don’t Blame Me – I Didn’t Vote For Him” bumper stickers and buttons seems to evince too much pride in personal purity and too little sense of personal responsibility.

This is why I was glad to see the Save Darfur Coalition take on the slogan “Not On Our Watch.” While I do believe that we have a particular responsibility to avert crimes perpetrated by our own government, I’m glad that a comparative lack of concern with allowing the Darfur genocide to be perpetrated in our names led the coalition to instead commit to stopping it from transpiring on our watch. “Not On Our Watch” acknowledges a common moral responsibility for the crimes which take place within communities large or small of which we are a part. When Americans take to the streets to avert a war with Iran, it would make a worthy slogan.

PIN THE TAIL ON THE ELITE

There’s a lot that could be said about Matt Bai’s NYT Mag profile of Mark Warner, which unsurprisingly says as much about Bai as about Warner. Bai’s faith in the conservatism of the average American, and the culpability of the uber-rich liberals in wrecking the Democrats’ appeal, will be familiar to anyone who read his chiding critique of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s book for considering structural obstacles to Democratic resurgence when the problem was obviously those liberal Hollywood celebrities and crazed bloggers stopping the party from offering Americans what they actually want. What struck me most on reading the article was the way that Bai’s choice of anecdotes reinforces his narrative – which may also be a reflection of Warner sharing anecdotes that reinforce a similar one.

Bai notes Warner’s plans to reform Medicare and his “embrace of free trade,” as things which will antagonize that infernal liberal elite, even though, as his readers may recall from the 2004 election, the party’s coterie of fund-raisers and policy wonks and strategists and spin-meisters are not known for their support for including labor standards in trade agreements. Warner’s belief that eroding entitlements in the solution to global competition seems more likely to put him on a collision course with the low-income voters who depend on our social insurance net and who’ve borne the burden of neoliberal trade policy. But there’s no gesture towards such a confrontation in Bai’s piece; instead we get an anecdote about his being hectored by elitist liberals at a Bay Area dinner party:

Warner thought his liberal guests would be interested in his policies to improve Virginia schools and raise the standard of living in rural areas; instead, it seemed to him, they thought that they understood poverty and race in an intellectual way that he, as a red-state governor, could not…as some of the guests walked Warner to his car, one woman vowed to educate him on abortion rights. That was all he could take. “This is why America hates Democrats,” a frustrated Warner blurted out before driving away. (Still piqued a month later, Warner, speaking to The Los Angeles Times, summarized the attitude of the assembled guests about their plans to save the country: “You little Virginia Democrat, how can you understand the great opportunities we have?”)

To read this story, and Bai’s article, you would think the only people to the left of Mark Warner are Bay Area elitists with cash left over from their brie purchases to distort the primary process. Of course, Matt Bai isn’t the only elite journalist committed to a vision in which his self-styled centrism is the will of the masses and those to his left are an insular elite. Michael Crowley, in a TNR piece on the tensions between Steny Hoyer’s more TNR-friendly war position and Nancy Pelosi’s, chose to describe Pelosi’s inner circle this way:

In addition to her top confidant, the combative Miller, others with Pelosi’s ear include Rosa DeLauro of New Haven; Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto; and Jan Schakowsky, a fiery crusader from Chicago’s upscale Lakefront area. All are critical of the war.

Now I’ve had the pleasure over the past four years of discovering all kinds of things for which New Haven should be nationally known. But it isn’t. Probably, as many TNR readers recognize Lakefront as New Haven. So Crowley could as helpfully written about “Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto, Jan Schakowsky of Lakefront, and Rosa DeLauro, whose New Haven, CT district represents a largely low-income constituency.” I’m curious why he decided instead to specify how “upscale” Lakefront is. But maybe that just makes me part of the reason people hate Democrats.

WHAT IS BARACK OBAMA SAYING?

Friday, Barack Obama wrote a response to blogospheric criticism of his criticism from the Senate floor of advocacy groups which were condemning Senators who voted to confirm Roberts (Obama himself voted against confirmation). He makes some points I agree with, and some I don’t. Most frustrating, though – and all the more so given his gift as a writer – are the arguments which sound nice but whose meanings are difficult to tease out at all. Like this one:

My colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, spoke out forcefully – and voted against – the Iraqi invasion. He isn’t somehow transformed into a “war supporter” – as I’ve heard some anti-war activists suggest – just because he hasn’t called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. He may be simply trying to figure out, as I am, how to ensure that U.S. troop withdrawals occur in such a way that we avoid all-out Iraqi civil war, chaos in the Middle East, and much more costly and deadly interventions down the road. A pro-choice Democrat doesn’t become anti-choice because he or she isn’t absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn’t become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn’t become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.

There are several ways to read this argument:

One is that what matters is a politician’s values, and not individual votes, and so it’s wrong to call a politician “anti-civil rights” for casting votes which hurt the cause of civil rights. The problem with this argument is that we elect representatives to cast good votes, not to personally sympathize with us and our values.

Another is that none of us has the right to decide what these labels mean – that it’s arrogant and inappropriate for pro-choice activists to tell politicians what it should mean to be pro-choice. The problem with this argument is that there’s no point in working to advance the cause of “choice” in general if that excludes advancing a particular understanding of what is and is not pro-choice policy. While it’s arguable whether or not the movement would be served by more politicians claiming the pro-choice mantle without changing their policy positions, but it certainly be insufficient.

Another argument which could Obama could be making here is that is that immediate troop withdrawl from Iraq, opposition to parental notification laws, defense of affirmative action from “questioning,” and opposition to CAFTA are not in fact serving the goals of the anti-war, pro-choice, civil rights, and labor movements, respectively. In other words, he could argue against the positions he thinks Democratic senators are wrongly being held to on the merits. But if there’s any such criticism here, it’s only implicit (Obama, for the record, voted against CAFTA in the Senate, voted against parental notification in the Illinois Senate, and is not calling for an immediate withdrawl of all US troops).

Given that Obama seems not to be articulating that argument, he could be arguing that these particular issues are just not important enough to make a big deal of. But it’s hard to imagine the groups he names not putting up a fight over these issues, and it would be hard to believe that Obama would expect them not to. CAFTA was the first comprehensive trade deal to come before the Congress under Bush, crafted to erode worker protections which accelerating the race to the bottom. Parental notification policies are, along with denial of government funding, one of the major policy impediments to women’s substantive exercise of their right to choose.

A more spurious argument which Obama seems implicitly to be making through questionable word choice is that the problem with these left-wing advocacy groups is that they’re out to restrict elected officials’ freedom of expression by punishing them for not being “absolutely convinced” on parental notification or “making a determination” they don’t like on CAFTA. To the extent that advocacy groups criticize elected officials for critical public statements, they’re not chilling speech – they’re responding to it, and I’d say there are some criticisms which are deserved and others which aren’t. But phrases like Obama’s here aren’t really about speech – they’re about votes. To describe a pro-choice group as punishing a legislator for not being convinced of something conjures up Orwellian images, but what pro-choice groups are taking legislators to task for isn’t private thoughts – it’s how they legislate.

The final argument that I think could reasonably be read from this paragraph, is that advocacy groups shouldn’t expect politicians to vote the way they want all of the time. But why not? Certainly, it would be a poor tactical choice for such groups to predict that everyone they want will vote however they want all of the time. But given the premise that their positions are the right ones (and with the exception of immediate and total withdrawl, I believe they are, and Obama seems to as well), shouldn’t support of all of their positions be the standard against which they judge elected officials? Does Obama really expect the National Council of La Raza to make public statements like, “Sadly, the Senator is only 85% of the way to casting votes to extend rather than restrict civil rights at least 60% of the time”? Elected officials, locally as well as nationally, often revel in disparaging “activists” for failure to understand the necessity of compromise. The first problem with that critique is that too often, the compromises are bad ones. The second is that the way we get good compromises is by having leaders on our side who are willing to take strong stands in the face of opposition. Obviously, writing a politician off as not worth working with in the future because of a vote on a particular issue is just bad politics – if you’re not organizing them, someone else is. But there’s a difference between writing off politicians who cast bad votes and being willing to publicly point out that those votes are bad. Voting for CAFTA may not make an otherwise pro-union legislator anti-union for good, but those of us who believe voting against CAFTA is the right vote and the pro-union vote to cast are, it seems to me, obligated to regard a politician who votes for CAFTA as less pro-union than if she hadn’t. Otherwise, we might as well pack up and go home.

Or maybe all Obama was trying to say was that left advocates should soften their rhetoric. I don’t think describing a Senator who votes to confirm a nominee for Chief Justice as in some way “complicit” in particularly aggregious decisions that Justice makes on the court is in any way out of bounds (and yes, that means Russ Feingold, of whom I remain a big fan, bears some degree of responsibility for what Justice Roberts does on the court). And I don’t think the left or the country are well-served when advocacy groups whose fundamental mission is an ideological one, not a partisan one, hold their fire in taking politicians of one party to task for actions for which they would condemn members of the other. Is there some exaggerated, over-the-top, nastily personal rhetoric out there? Of course. But if that’s what Obama takes issue with, he could have found a clearer way to say it.

FROM CHICAGO TO WASHINGTON

One of the contentions which largely cuts across the AFL-CIO/ Change to Win divide is a recognition that the labor movement has yet to match the power of its Electon Day turnout operation with an effective mechanism for holding accountable the politicians it helps elect. Still more controversial is the recognition that a winning agenda for the movement demands a broad conception of the interests of working people and a more comprehensive social vision.

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO followed progressive unions like SEIU in passing a strong anti-war resolution condemning the impact of the war on working families and urging that civil rights be strengthened in Iraq and that the troops be brought home “rapidly.” Clearly, we’ve come a long way from the days when they used to half-jokingly call it the AFL-CIA. We’re not in Kirkland-Land anymore…

And Monday, as SEIU and the Teamsters were leaving the federation, the two unions’ presidents joined the presidents of eighteen other unions, AFL-CIO and Change to Win Coalition alike, in sending a strongly-worded letter to the Democratic leadership rightly condemning the party’s refusal to put its full force behind defeating CAFTA (David Sirota offers a good overview of the damage CAFTA could do if approved tonight by the House).

Good signs, in the wake of Monday’s split, for a more muscular movement. Here’s hoping John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson, who were re-elected without opposition this afternoon, will be driven further in this direction, and can find a way to facilitate – rather than block – the co-operation with the Change to Win folks necessary to make it happen.

I’m frustrated to see Keith Gottschalk arguing that a poll suggesting troops in Iraq support the President is cause not to support the troops:

Taken all the above quotes into context it shows that truly we do cull the ordinary Americans from the heartland to serve in the military. No critical reasoning skills among the majority of this bunch, even when their own lives are being used as cannon fodder. In this they reflect the simple majority of Americans who have been dumbed down and trained not to think critically or question what they are told.

The poll itself is highly questionable, insofar as it draws only on subscribers to military magazines. And “Support the Troops” as a slogan is more often than not cynically manipulated by the same crowd defending Rumsfeld’s “Screw the Troops” approach. That said, whether our politics line up with those of the majority of the soldiers currently bearing the burden of the failed policies of much wealthier, safer politicians is an awful way to judge whether their needless death and suffering, like that of Iraqis, should trouble and pain us. Too often the left has made the mistake of blaming those in the working class carrying out policies when our animus should be directed at the rich bastards who are fashioning them. And deriding the poor as stupid is a terrible and offensive excuse which makes it that much easier to avoid confronting the organizing failures of the left, and in so doing perpetuates needless suffering and savage inequality.

This post has sparked some strong disagreement from Errol and Jamie. Errol writes:

Why shouldn’t that student or students like him be able to go to a school where he feels comfortable expressing his opinion on campus. This is a very widespread opinion because it’s almost uniformly ignored by liberals on college campuses around the nation. We simply ignore that while making our campuses an open forum for almost every liberal, progressive, leftist or whatever you want to call left of center opinions, that we impose an almost tyrannical speech code on our more conservative students. They’re not only often afraid of being relegated to being pariah by speaking their minds in class about what they might see as the negative effects of an encroaching welfare state, the evils of moral relativism, or the value of tradition in human interaction, but they must constantly be bombarded with propaganda with which they disagree. The implication of your post seems to be that conservative students or others that feel very much marginalized on college campuses should just suck it up. Why should they? Is it because they’re in the minority? Or is it because you have such a firm control over the truth or over what’s right and what’s wrong that you can suddenly feel comfortable excluding certain voices from discourse? Because ultimately that is what lost when people feel so uncomfortable, when people feel strongly enough about the social pressures that they feel to evoke “the Nazi button policies” as a way to explain to others the level of oppressiveness that they feel.

For sake of time, I’ll reprint here my response in the comments: I’m not clear on how it is, Errol, in your argument, that “an almost tyranical speech code” is imposed on “our more conservative students.” Is it simply by nature of disagreeing with these more conservative students that the majority is teetering on the edge of tyranny? What I labelled as immature in the piece I linked was the contention that merely being asked by peers to support a social cause that one disagrees with is oppressive. The natural end point of this argument, it seems to me, would be that no Yale Law student should ask for another Yale Law student to join a cause unless she knows that he already is aware of and supportive of it. That seems likely to translate into very few causes getting off the ground at a school which prides itself on – and attracts students through – its reputation for cultivating students concerned about their surrounding and national communities and prepared to use the law in support of social justice.

As someone who tends to come down pretty far on one side of the spectrum of opinion at Yale, I’ve often been in the position of being an ideological minority. But while I’ve certainly been critical of policies – like police seizure of leaflets in the Woolsey Rotunda – which restrict my expression of those views, I’ve never argued that my views are being stifled simply by not being widely shared. The past few years have provided endless chances to watch the same national and local figures relentlessly bemoan a “culture of victimhood” amongst historically marginalized groups while raising alarms over the supposed oppression of campus conservatives who are stuck, for example, having liberal commencement speakers. Few of them have gone so far as to compare solicitations to support a cause to Nazism.

We’re told that “there was very little opportunity to express alternative opinions at the law school,” but we get no account of any dissent that was stifled, or any attempt to express those alternative opinions. He offers no evidence that he tried to do so – or to identify himself as an intentionally “non-button wearing student” rather than someone who hadn’t had the chance to get one. Democracy is messy. Sometimes it involves being asked to do things one doesn’t want to. If he had said no and discovered as a result that his grades were being lowered or his posters were being torn down or, say, his door was being slammed with a 2 by 4, that would be more like persecution.

As for the enforcement of the non-discrimination policy, if you have evidence that it’s going unenforced in other cases, or questions about its parameters, there’s a phalanx of lawyers and futures lawyers on this campus much better equipped to respond.

Jamie also argues that I should have more sympathy for the Patrick P:

And yes, Yale is an “oppressive” place to be if you’re a conservative, er, rather, not a leftist. I often have to ask myself if those who think not being a liberal at Yale is easy live on the same planet as I do. When I ask myself this question, the answer I always come up with is, no, these people do not live on this planet. And don’t even try to tell me that you’ve felt unfairly marginalized as part of the “ideological minority.” You haven’t. For people who use the word “Nazi” and “fascist” so freely to describe your political opponents, its clear that you’ve lost any and all ability you might have once had (which probably wasn’t all that much to write home about in the first place) to recognize literary devices like facetiousness or overstatement. To act as if being one of 90 people not to sign a petition that the other 500 of your professors and peers have deemed to be a moral necessity is an easy situation to live with flies in the face of reality.

Look, it’s never easy to disagree be surrounded by people who disagree with you, as generations of college students on various parts of the political spectrum on various campuses have discovered over the past several generations. Fortunately, many choose to speak up anyway. Hopefully, all of us are at college looking to encounter articulate advocates for positions we disagree with, and hopefully we’ve each been successful. Jamie’s quick to dismiss the claim that those of us to the left of the Yale center may also have it less than easy sometimes. I think it’s worth noting that the major instance of violent response to dissent while we’ve been on campus was targeted against a girl hanging an upside-down American flag. And I think it’s worth noting that it’s been students criticizing University policy from the left who’ve been stopped or detained by the police. To read some of Jamie’s earlier posts you’d think that left-wing critics of University policy represented a tiny fringe; to read ones like this you would think that the student body was a massive cohort of far-left radicals. I’d say the truth is somewhere in between.

To argue that Yale oppresses those to the right of the left simply rings hollow. For copies of Light and Truth to be confiscated by administrators back when because they suggested skipping sex-ed lectures was certainly outrageous, although I’m not fully persuaded that can be chalked up to left-wing bias rather than a generally spotty record on protecting dissent from administration policy. Of course, it’s usually been students on the left who’ve borne the brunt of Yale’s failures in this vein. On the other hand, a student who chooses to attend a political rally supporting a candidate but claims he can’t release his name out of fear of intimidation doesn’t persuade me that it’s the liberals creating, in Jamie’s words, “an environment in which students are meant to keep their opinions to themselves.” And I’d say there’s something twisted in students arguing that professors and students who make strong criticisms of the Republican President, Republican House, or Republican Senate are responsible for othering those students who support the party running our government, or doing some other verb to them which Jamie and others don’t believe in when it’s used to describe the experience of, say, a black female student marginalized by the presence of only one black woman with tenure at Yale. I’m sure that there are situations in which professors overly antagonize students they disagree with on the right, or wrongly let disagreement affect how they grade students on the right, or in which students are rude or dismissive towards students on the right, just as all of these cases are experienced in reverse by students on the left. But that does not oppression make. And if we hear more about the marginalization of conservative students nationally, it may be in part because conservatives have been very effective in using the think tanks and media they dominate the perpetuate the idea of an oppressive liberal university to complement the supposed oppressive liberal media, and to bring accounts of said oppression to light and onto the airwaves.

The account I responded to isn’t even a borderline case. Here the supposed oppression consists simply of the articulation of a viewpoint by a majority of other students, and the appeals of some of those students that he join. It’s ridiculous to claim that as persecution. And it’s that much more ridiculous to compare it to Nazism. Contrary to Jamie’s implication, I’ve never referred here, or in any other venue I know of, to my peers as Nazis. I also haven’t called him a “homophobe” for opposing the activism of Yale Law students. If there are examples to the contrary, let me know. I do believe that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is soaked in and perpetuates bigotry in a similar manner to the racial segregation of the military not so very long ago.

Errol and Jamie are also disappointed that I and others in what Jamie sees as “Yale’s ever-so-righteous corps of lefty bloggers” haven’t gotten around to critiquing this column. What is there to say? Instead of exploring the divide Bush’s cabinet appointments have demonstrated between descriptive and substantive representation of ethnic minorities, or assessing the destructive impact of Bush’s policy on black communities, or considering the frightening implications of another four years of this foreign policy, she launches an offensive, outrageous, and useless attack on Rice as secretly being a white man. It’s a terrible column. I think we can all agree there.

This is an election we should have won. This is an election we could have won if the candidate had been working as hard, and as smart, as everybody else that was trying to get him elected. We almost won it anyway. It could be that we did. But given Kerry’s unwillingness to wait as long as folks did in line to vote for him before saying, in the name of national unity, that their votes needn’t be counted, we may never know.

I think the most striking find in the exit polls was that significant majorities said they supported Kerry on Iraq but Bush on the war on terror. Funny thing is, main thing Bush has done in the name of stopping terror is ignore Osama bin Laden and create a terrorist playground in Iraq, while refusing necessary funding for homeland security. This says to me that Bush succeeded in making terrorism a question of character rather than of policy. Kerry was certainly savaged by the media in the same way Gore was, while Bush too often got a free pass. But Kerry failed for months to put out a coherent, comprehensible message on Iraq (as on too many other issues), and while voters rightly prefered an alleged flip-flopper to an obvious belly-flopper on the issue, I think he shot a lot of his credibility as a strong leader and he may have lost the rhetorical battle for Commander-in-Chief. His unwillingness to aggressively defend himself, especially from the vile Swift Boat Vet attacks, can’t have helped. What’s tragic, of course, is that Bush has flip-flopped far more, even on whether we can win the war on terror, and that the extent his policy has been consistent, it’s been stubbornly, suicidely dangerous. On this issue, as on every issue, some will argue that Kerry was just too left-wing, which is anything but the truth (same goes for Dukakis, Mondale, Gore). A candidate who consistently opposed the war and articulated a clear vision of what to do once we got there could have fared much better.

Then there’s the cluster of issues the media, in an outrageous surrender to the religious right, insist on calling “moral values” (as if healthcare access isn’t a moral value). Here Kerry got painted as a left-winger while abjectly failing to expose the radical right agenda of his opponent. Most voters are opposed to a constitutional ban on all abortion, but Kerry went three debates without mentioning that it’s in the GOP platform. That, and a ban on gay adoption, which is similarly unpopular. And while he started trying towards the end to adopt values language in expressing his position on these issues and on others, it was too little, too late. An individual may be entitled to privacy about his faith and his convictions, religious or otherwise but a Presidential candidate shouldn’t expect to get too far without speaking convincingly about his beliefs and his feelings (I’m hoping to get a chance to read George Lakoff’s new book on this – maybe Kerry should as well).

This election will provide further few to those who argue that Republicans are a cadre of libertarians and the poor are all social conservatives who get convinced by the GOP to ignore class. The first problem with this argument when folks like Michael Lind articulate it is that it ignores the social liberalism of many in the working class. There are others – like the economic breakdown of voting patterns in 2000, which would make David Brooks’ head explode because the fact is Gore got the bottom three sixths and Bush got the top. But few can argue that a not insignificant number of working class voters in this country consistently vote against their economic interests, and that at least in this election, they have enough votes to swing the result. Here too some will argue the Democrats just have to sell out gay folks and feminists to win back the Reagan Democrats. I think Thomas Frank is much closer to the truth: People organize for control over their lives and their environments through the means that appear possible, and the Democrats’ ongoing retreat from an economic agenda which articulates class inequality has left the Republicans’ politics of class aesthetics (stick it to the wealthy liberals by putting prayer back in schools) as an alternative. For all the flack he got over wording, Howard Dean was speaking to an essential truth when he recognized that working-class southern whites don’t have much to show for decades of voting Republican, and Kerry didn’t make the case nearly well enough. He also seems to have bought into Republicans’ claims that Democrats always spend the last few weeks beating old folks over the head with claims that they’ll privatize social security and forgotten that Republicans, in fact, will privatize social security if they can. So he let too many of them get pulled away to the GOP. Part of the irony of the debate over the tension between the left economic agenda and their social agenda, and whether being labelled with the latter stymies the former, is that as far as public opinion goes, I see much more reason for confidence that we’ll have gained tremendous ground on gay marriage in a generation than that we will have on economic justice. As far as policy goes, the next four years are a terrifying prospect for both, and for most things we value in this country.

Don’t mourn. Organize.

Ted Rall has become a popular boogeyman of the right of late, drawing fire on a regular basis for good and brave cartoons that speak truth to power. This is not one of them. It’s a cheap shot at a dead man which wrongly pins on him the blame for the crimes of a bunch of safe, wealthy, powerful men who’d like nothing better than to see the anti-war movement taking potshots at soldiers rather than the people who deploy them. This is not a time when the left can afford to be vengeful – and certainly not a time at which we can afford to blame the wrong targets.

Some thoughts on yesterday’s march:

It was gigantic. I’m not great at estimating crowds, but I’m confident saying there were significantly more folks there than the last rally I attended in DC, the anti-war one in January which drew several hundred thousand people. The organizers reported distributing over a million of the “count me in” stickers given to marchers when we signed forms identifying ourselves, which is a number I’m inclined to trust and a method which, based on personal experience, is much more likely to under-count than to over-count people. That, and just look at those photos. A truly enormous crowd (were I to use an even less scientific measure, the number of people I know whom I unexpectedly ran into at the march, I would reach a similar conclusion).

What impressed me most about this march, as I alluded to earlier, was the self-conscious manner in which it broke out of the mold of white, upper/middle-class feminist/ pro-choice activism which has too often marked the movement. The choice of whether or not to continue a pregnancy to term was contextualized in terms of the various and urgent structures which regulate women’s fertility and impact their lives and those of their born children. Speakers and placards unapologetically tied the right to choose with the rights to a progressive welfare system, progressive immigration reform, and global sexual education. Too often, as some have observed, it’s left to the anti-choice movement to discuss the realities of urban poverty. Yesterday, the right to choose was proudly claimed as part of a comprehensive struggle for the liberation of women. Women of color, poor women, and disabled women were not only present but central on the podium and in the crowds. Cheri Hankala, of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, spoke right after Hillary Clinton.

About the big-name Democrats: There were a lot of them. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Poxer, Terry McAuliffe, Carol Mosely-Braun and Howard Dean all marched or spoke. It was somewhat heartening to see them there, insofar as it makes it more difficult for the party, or its candidate (several of whose relatives apparently were there) to Sister-Souljah the Pro-Choice movement over the next several months or once in office. And it demonstrates, God willing, a recognition that this is a constituency which will be vital to rebuilding the Democratic party.

There was, of course, a good deal of dissonance at times between the speakers, and between the narrowness of some of the more famous speakers’ messages and the agenda of the march. Hillary Clinton, proud booster as First Lady and now as Senator of a welfare reform which punishes women for having children, deteriorates their access to healthcare and childcare, and make it that much more difficult to find education and living wage work, appeared all too happy to divorce freedom of choice from liberation from poverty. Yesterday, not for the first time, Clinton seemed to get a free pass from much of the left on account of the venom directed at her from the right. I would have liked to see someone like Cheri Hankela call Clinton on the impact of her policies on women’s freedom to direct their lives. But, much like John Lewis’ planned critique of John Kennedy at the March on Washington, it didn’t happen.

There were lots of families there. There were large delegations from very “red” cities and states which in the conventional wisdom would have sent no one to a pro-choice march. I spoke to women on their first march and to others who had been to the capitol for the same cause a dozen years before. There were Doctors and medical students, some in appropriate dress, declaring their preparation to perform an operation for which others have been murdered. We Jews were very, very well-represented, particularly the Reform movement, which endorsed the March.

What most surprised me about the counter-protesters was their scarcity. They stood in a designated space along the sidewalk, maybe one every several feet, for a few blocks. Mostly they held signs holding pictures of aborted fetuses and comparing abortion to slavery and/or the Holocaust. I observed no physical confrontations between us and them.

I came away from yesterday’s march with something that many of us worked for but never saw completely coalesce in the same way within the anti-war movement (whose circumstances, of course, made such much more difficult) last year: a sense of hope and alternative positive vision. The March’s organizers, speakers, and participants effectively conveyed not only the tremendous threat posed by the Bush administration but also an incipient sense of the process of forging progressive alternatives. It was a small piece of a conversation about what it would mean to build a society which fully respected and fostered the autonomy of women and children and men over their bodies and their lives, and in so doing made possible the full flourishing of the human spirit.